Review: 2015 Toyota Corolla S

Monday August 3rd, 2015 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Corolla S

By David Colman

Hypes: Gas Miser, Interior Belies Price
Gripes: Paltry Torque Rating

My local Toyota dealer is offering a 2015 Corolla S for just $158/month. That amounts to $5.26 per day. If you commute from Marin to San Francisco, the daily toll on the Golden Gate Bridge ($6) will cost more than your Corolla does. Of course, if you chose to pay cash rather than finance your purchase, the Corolla S retails for $22,905. Add $395 for paint protection film, $309 for illuminated door sill emblems, $225 for carpeted floor and trunk mats, and $825 for delivery, and the Toyota Corolla S can be yours for $24,659. Not only is this price affordable, but long range ownership promises to be impecunious as well. The EPA estimates annual fuel cost will be just $1,650, thanks to an overall fuel consumption figure of 32 MPG. On the “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” scale, this model scores an 8 out of 10, and a 5 out of 10 on the “Smog Rating” scale. All in all, the Corolla is the very model of inconspicuous civility.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But is it a blast to drive? Not exactly. Although the “S” designation makes a significant step up in performance from the base Corolla, you’ll never mistake it for a BMW, or a Mazda 3 for that matter. Two important items distinguish the S model from the base Corolla. The first is the substitution of rear disc brakes for the base model’s rear drum brakes. Disc brakes are superior in every way to drums, so your Corolla S will stop better in all weather conditions than the drum brake equipped base model. Secondly, the S features hugely improved front seats, with perfectly contoured lumbar support, plus retentive side bolstering. But these pluses can’t compensate for the Corolla’s lack of grunt. Its 1.8 liter engine makes just 140hp, and 126lb.-ft. of torque, no match for the car’s 2,900lb. curb weight. Do the math and you come up with a horsepower-to-weight ratio of 20.7lb./hp. That compares unfavorably to competitors like Honda’s Civic (19.7), Kia’s Forte (19.4), and Mazda’s 3 (18.5). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Toyota is the slowest of the bunch in quarter mile tests, with a time of 17.1 seconds at 82.7mph, and a 0-60mph time of 9.3 seconds.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But the Corolla S handles well enough to redeem its horsepower shortfall. Toyota supplies the S with snazzy looking Op Art 17 inch alloy wheels that replace the base model’s 16 inch rims. Firestone FR 740 radials (215/45R17) get the job done at each contact patch, and the Corolla skittles through curves with precision and dispatch. The S’ lovely leather rimmed steering wheel aids in positioning the stable chassis with accuracy. The CVT transmission offers paddle shifting in the S, giving you another driving dynamic absent in the base Corolla. Inside the cabin, you would be hard pressed to conclude that this is an economy sedan. The furnishings merit high praise, from the fit and finish of the SofTex seats to the tailoring of the rugs and mats. Toyota has done a first class job of making the Corolla look more expensive than it is. Particularly impressive is the long list of standard features you’d normally expect to pay extra to acquire: automatic climate control, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a smart key system with push button start. That smart key is intelligent enough to unlock the car as you approach, eliminating the need to button hunt the key fob remote. Best feature of all for rear seat passengers is the abundance of leg room. The Corolla offers a class leading 41.4 inches of aft kick space. Along with its low beltline and tall side windows, the interior remains bathed in light. The standard power tilt/slide moon roof contributes yet another source of daytime interior illumination. The Corolla interior is remarkably habitable for 4 adults especially considering that this chassis makes do with just 106 inches of wheelbase. That’s 3 inches less than Toyota’s Camry offers.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

The Corolla S is unquestionably handsome this year, with a pugnacious front architecture that distinguishes it from lesser Corollas. Although its performance falls short of matching its impertinent look, the Corolla S’ many other virtues make up for that shortfall. This is a practical, safe and inexpensive way for a family to travel in style if not great swiftness.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

2015 Toyota Corolla S

  • Engine: 1.8 liter, 4 cylinder inline DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 126lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29MPG City/37MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,659
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Friday July 31st, 2015 at 12:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

By David Colman

Hypes: Premium Build Quality, German Engineering
Gripes: Chintzy Door Pocket Straps

There’s only one VW model you can order in Yellow Rush for 2015. It’s also the only one you can order in Denim Blue. Let’s see, Rush Yellow and Denim Blue – colors that have kind of a Hippie ring to them, don’t you think? A nostalgic ring that’s not at all out of keeping for prospective buyers of the reinvented Beetle. After all, both owners and car came of age in the Age of Aquarius. For color loving Hippies and even their Hipster offspring, VW offers no fewer than 11 standard colors for the current Beetle. That’s nearly twice as many as you can select for the Golf (7) or the GTI (6).

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Color is just the beginning of the long, strange trip you’ll take when you saddle up a new Beetle. Our test model, finished in a fetching shade called Reflex Silver Metallic, featured the standard engine in the Beetle line, a 170hp. 1.8 liter turbocharged 4 driving through a 6 speed automatic transmission. This model, replete with a sunroof, Fender premium audio system and RNS 315 touch screen Navigation, retails for $26,985. This affordable package is but one of no less than 30 (!) different options VW offers for the Beetle model line. Breaking things down to the simplest split, you can order a 1.8 liter turbo stripper, with manual gearbox, for as little as $20,195. The 150hp Diesel-powered Beetle TDI, making 236lb.-ft. of torque, starts at $24,795 for a manual gearbox version.

The top line 2.0 liter “R-Line” turbo, making 210hp and coupled to a DSG gearbox with full manual override, lists for $30,525 with sunroof, sound system and navigation. If you upgrade to an R-Line convertible, you’re looking at a $35,095 Beetle. In fact, although the test car we drove for a week doesn’t even break into the top half of the Beetle expense spreadsheet, it still makes for a very enjoyable ride. Its turbo 4, which benefits from direct fuel injection streamed at high psi, offers more than enough performance to make even rabid lane changers happy. The transmission happily accepts commands to hold gear choices, though it lacks the steering wheel paddles supplied with the expensive DSG option.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T .

Bearing in mind that the Beetle is really nothing but a re-clothed Golf, it should come as no surprise that its handling is nimble, accurate and pleasurable to control. The Servotronic speed-variable electro-mechanical steering achieves a happy combination of feedback, precision and intuition. The Beetle always obeys your positioning commands with grace and dispatch. Premium Continental Pro Contact tires (235/45R18) are well suited to the task of clipping apexes accurately. The 18 inch chromed hub alloy rims lend a retro note to the Beetle, looking a bit like the original model’s steel wheels and poverty chrome center caps. Especially appealing is the oversize VW logo featured on each wheel.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

There’s nothing poverty stricken about the Beetle’s interior. Its fit and finish are fastidiously delineated. The dash and doors feature a handsome sweep of Silver Reflex Metallic paint that matches the exterior color and lends an elegant complicity to the interior. The standard heated “comfort” front seats, new for 2015, look fetching even in the Titan Black leatherette application of our test VW. A diagonal pattern of stripes distinguishes the side bolsters from the seating surfaces in a look that mimics silk and satin. The glovebox features a delightful latch that owners of earlier Beetles will recall with fondness.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

But this interior is not showy at the expense of utilitarian virtue. After a shopping trip to Home Depot garnered a couple of 4′ light fixtures and a 10′ pole for cleaning windows, my wife and I debated whether some of the purchases would be poking through the sunroof on the trip home. I said no, she said yes, and when we got to the Beetle, we discovered that because both rear seats fold flat, everything would fit inside the car, including that 10′ long pole. Given its diminutive size, the Beetle offers an amazing compendium of space efficiency, fuel efficiency (28MPG overall) and driving joy for a very modest investment.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

  • Engine: 1.8 liter turbocharged inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,805
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

Thursday July 30th, 2015 at 2:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome, Useful and Fun to Drive
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

After Ford jettisoned its Mercury brand, they also allowed their Lincoln franchise to drift aimlessly for several years. The nameplate that once symbolized speed with its Zephyr in the 1930s and personal luxury with its Continental in the 1940s and 1950s, completely lost focus in recent times. But Ford has resolved to end the slide by refreshing Lincoln’s product line. Their latest effort is the MKS, a new offering for 2015 that brings Lincoln into the mid-price crossover SUV market with an upgraded and restyled version of the Ford Escape.

The best thing about the MKS is its explosively powerful turbocharged 2.3 liter EcoBoost inline 4. This engine package, which is not available on the Ford Escape, is worth every penny of the extra $1,140 you will pay. It absolutely rockets the MKS to the forefront of performance for this class of SUV. While it’s no gas miser at 21 MPG overall consumption, the extra fuel you ignite with the EcoBoost power plant yields 285hp and a whopping 305lb.-ft. of torque. With that kind of output running through a paddle-shifted 6-speed Select Shift automatic gearbox, the MKS becomes one of the liveliest mid size SUVs you can buy for under $50,000.

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

Given that kind of performance advantage under the hood, it is surprising that Lincoln engineers dropped the ball on other aspects of performance that should make such a vehicle fun to drive. Two areas of concern become obvious before you’ve driven the MKS a couple of miles. Steering effort is much too light to provide any sense of road awareness. The feather touch steering effort encourages imprecision through over control. Brake pedal response is so touchy that you’ll inadvertently perform a panic stop before you get the hang of where the threshold point is located. After a couple of drives in the MKS, you will learn to compensate for these idiosyncrasies, and driving it does then become rewarding. The optional 19 inch diameter, 5-spoke alloy wheels (a bargain at $395), mount 245/45R19 Michelin Latitude tires which contribute significantly to stability on twisting back roads. While you never entirely lose the bobblehead ride motion created by the elevated stance of the MKS, the compromise between ride comfort and sharp handling is well modulated in this Lincoln.

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The central pillar of the dashboard contains the “My Lincoln Touch” screen which oversees most functions of the infotainment system, navigation needs, and ventilation controls. Unlike its Ford counterparts, the MKC dash also includes redundant buttons for air conditioning, fan and heat. This duplication makes it much easier for you to attend to the basics of climate control without the need to fiddle with a bouncing touch screen. The MKS’s center stack also presents a novel interface for gear selection. Along the left edge of the binnacle, you will find a series of oversized buttons that look like they belong on a ’59 Edsel, or on one of those phones designed for seniors with bad eyesight. The top button starts and stops the engine, while the rest control operation of the gearbox. These are arrayed in vertical sequence beneath the ignition button, with an “S” labeled pad at the very bottom which sets the transmission into sport mode for manual override driving. Even at the end of my week in the MKS, I found this start/transmission array difficult to operate because it never falls readily to hand or mind. I also accidentally caused the gearbox to slip into Neutral while fiddling with the adjacent radio selection screen. That made me wonder what would happen if the R button for Reverse was depressed mistakenly. One nice feature of this setup is its ability to automatically shift from Drive to Park when you simply turn the engine off. Another benefit of the button stack is that it opens up the entire floor console between the front seats to cup and oddment storage.

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

Lincoln outfitted our test MKS ($6,935)with Equipment Group 102A, which brightens the interior with an enormous panoramic, double pane sliding roof. It also adds folding exterior mirrors, navigation with voice recognition, heated and cooled front seats, rear cross traffic alert, and a nifty hands free rear lift gate. While you will benefit from these niceties, the Technology Package ($2,235) is kind of a mixed bag. Adaptive Cruise Control is handy for stress-free speed maintenance at 65mph, but the included “Forward Sensing System” which illuminates a bank of flashing red lights right under your nose, is a complete waste of time. It illuminated repeatedly when the system detected something as inert as a guardrail lining the outside of a sharp turn. Save your money on this option group.

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

  • Engine: 3.0 liter alloy V-6 with twin scroll turbo, CVVT and DOHC
  • Horsepower: 325hp @5400rpm
  • Torque: 354lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,225
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

Tuesday July 28th, 2015 at 1:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome, Useful and Fun to Drive
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

Volvo’s Polestar Program is such a well kept secret that the company provides each new purchaser with a presentation kit explaining the virtues of this hottest Volvo you can buy. Polestar is Volvo’s racing arm, an outfit that has won the Swedish Touring Car Championship for many years running. Here’s a brief list of the V60’s many special attributes. Under the hood lies a tweaked 3.0 liter V6 that produces 325hp, 25hp more than the standard V6. This motor also makes 354lb.-ft. of torque, 29 pounds more than the standard B6304T4 engine. To handle the extra power, the V60 station wagon version of the S60 sedan drives through all four wheels with a highly evolved system using torque vectoring to disseminate power where needed. Although Volvo has introduced a new 8 speed automatic gearbox for 2015, it is available only with 4 cylinder versions of this wagon. Thanks to the ample torque of the turbocharged 6, the Polestar doesn’t need the extra gears provided by the 8-speed. Rather, it connects through a 6 speed Geartronic automatic that provides manual shifting with aluminum paddles mounted on the steering wheel. The combination of the quick boost provided by the twin scroll turbo, and the instant gear selection afforded by the paddle shift automatic make this V60 the fastest accelerating Volvo I have ever driven.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

The beauty of the Polestar package lies in the fact that the suspension is perfectly calibrated to enhance the performance of the drive train. Volvo’s sport chassis provides an authoritative sense of control. The ride is firm but never punishing. Especially welcome are the top notch set of Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires (235/40R19) mounted on matte black “IXION” rims ($750 extra) that look like Cuisineart blades. Exterior flourishes are handsomely integrated into the sleek lines of this model. At the back, you’ll find a small Polestar identifier attached to the R-Design rear diffuser with polished tail pipes. The front fascia sports a more aggressive splitter and a discreet R-Design offset badge. Climb into the spacious cabin, and sink into special R-Design, race inspired front seats that offer accentuated thigh and lower back support. These carefully tailored buckets feature grey leather with contrasting white stitching. Matching R-Design shift knob and fat-rimmed steering wheel complete the high performance touches.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

Although the Volvo’s interior cabin measures just 69 inches from the front seat backs to the tailgate, I was able to slip a mountain bike into this cavity without removing a wheel. Granted, it was a tight fit, but it does reveal just how much storage space is available in a car with a wheelbase of just 109 inches. Note, however, that seating for two on the rear bench is tight, especially if tall occupants have positioned the front seats far aft. When lifted, the rear storage area floor board reveals a large number of hidden compartments that would be perfect for secreting valuables. Underneath that sub floor you discover that the V60 has no spare tire, but does provide a sealant can and a tire inflator.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

According to Motor Trend Magazine, Volvo is only bringing over 120 Polestar S60s and V60s for the rest of this model year. This adds a rarity quotient to an already highly desirable package. For the money, you can’t find a better sports wagon than the Polestar equipped V60. A Polestar information kit provided by Volvo suggests that you register your VIN number with the company as soon as you buy it. They will then provide a certificate indicating your wagon is equipped with “Polestar Power Optimisation,” a document that is “especially important when it’s time to sell your car, since a Polestar optimization is likely to increase the resale value.”

2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

  • Engine: 3.0 liter alloy V-6 with twin scroll turbo, CVVT and DOHC
  • Horsepower: 325hp @5400rpm
  • Torque: 354lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,225
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Monday July 27th, 2015 at 1:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

By David Colman

Hypes: Show car Looks, Ease of Operation
Gripes: Slow KIckdown Gear, Limited Rear Vision

In the prime of the muscle car era, back in 1970, Chrysler fielded an SCCA Trans Am racing team of Dodge Challengers and Plymouth Barracudas. These were basically the same car, with only stylistic differences between them. Although Chrysler never won the Trans Am series title with either model, the cars were successful brand ambassadors, especially the Barracudas entered by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. Gurney’s AAR ‘Cuda, as it was known by its laser stripes then, lives on today as the Dodge Challenger SXT Plus. Optimal Challengers are available either with a 375hp, 5.7 liter HEMI V8, or a 470hp, 6.4 liter HEMI. The model we tested, however, was powered by a fuel conserving 3.6 liter V6 good for 23 MPG in overall driving, and 30 MPG on the highway. The V6 Challenger SXT Plus is plenty quick as long as you’ve selected the right gear in the 8-speed Torqueflite transmission. Otherwise, acceleration is rather leisurely, as it takes the drive train a full second to get with the program when you floor the throttle with Torqueflite in Drive. Overall performance is more AARP ‘Coulda than AAR ‘Cuda.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Despite this occasional power outage, the Challenger is still rewarding to hustle through curves. You can thank the big footprint of the standard Firestone Firehawk GT tires (245/45R20) for the extra stability. These beefy rollers are enhanced by optional polished alloy 20 inch wheels ($795) with “Graphite Pockets.” Their hexagonal spoke pattern and dazzling finish look especially good when bolted to a Challenger finished in “Phantom Black Metallic Tri-Coat Pearl” exterior paint. Though you might expect to pay extra for this show car finish, it’s available as a standard shade. Complementing the sparkly black is an eye-popping Ruby Red interior. The SXT is definitely a looker, with sleek body contours and twin faux hood scoops imparting that just-raced look so much a part of muscle car credibility.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Weight saving has never been a muscle car strong suit, and the Challenger, at 4,195 pounds, continues that dubious tradition. You sense the SXT’s mass every time you flick the steering wheel from lock to lock through a series of switchback curves. While the Challenger obediently follows your lead, it takes a couple of milliseconds before the chassis settles down. In fact, the SXT version seems rather softly sprung, a trait which imparts a cushy ride at the expense of fully snubbed handling. It’s actually a worthy trade-off for real world driving, a compromise that pays off in comfort every time you’re confronted with an array of speed bumps.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

With a length of 16.5 feet, and a wheelbase of 116 inches, the cabin of the Challenger is a spacious enclosure. Although access to the back seat is somewhat impeded by the aft positioning of the front seats, once passengers are ensconced in the rear they will enjoy a moderately pleasurable ride. The Challenger’s sheer size also endows it with a flat floored, 16 cubic foot trunk. Rear seat backs can be dropped to access interior space for lengthy items. The heavily sloped rear roof and small backlight limit rear visibility, so the standard Park Sense rear park assist system and standard Park View rear back-up camera are essential safety components for maneuvering the Challenger in tight quarters. Our test example also featured an optional, $1,195 Power Sunroof which helped to shed light on the many black door and dash panels that engulf the Ruby Red seats. For $795, you may also want to upgrade to the Driver Convenience Group, which endows the Challenger with a slick Remote Start System, as well as Blind Spot and Rear Cross Path Detection, plus HID headlamps. The Blind Spot monitors illuminate handily under the rear view mirror stalks, and the Cross Path alert sounds when you are backing out of a parking space into circulating traffic. Both aids are worth having in view of the Dodge’s limited rear vision.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

The basic Challenger SXT Plus provides a number of luxurious and surprising standard fitments in a vehicle with a base price of just $29,995. Chief among them are Keyless Enter ‘n Go, a terrific system which allows you to forget about fiddling with your key forever more. Just slip the fob into your pocket, and every time you approach your locked Challenger, it opens magically when you touch the door release. A voice activated Uconnect Access system affords voice texting of 140 character messages, plus a mobile Access App (free for the first 6 months) that provides restaurant, hotel, entertainment, gas, bank and parking information. A 7 inch reconfigurable display on the instrument panel makes Uconnect surfing easy.

With its comfy and inviting interior, stealthy exterior, and long list of standard features, the affordable V6 version of the Challenger is the Big Easy of today’s muscle cars.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6 with 24 valves and VVT
  • Horsepower: 305hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,175
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

Thursday July 23rd, 2015 at 12:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

By David Colman

Hypes: Zero Gravity Seats, Excellent Mileage
Gripes: Imprecise Steering, Pitchy Ride

Let’s say you prefer mild cuisine, vanilla ice cream and colorless clothing. Has Nissan ever got the perfect set of wheels for you. It’s called the Altima, it costs just $28,180, and it will serve your family with faithful, if innocuous obedience. With its spacious 109 inch wheelbase, and 15 cubic foot trunk, the Altima is perfectly suited to whisking 4 adults and 4 suitcases away for extended drives. This car shows its virtue on the freeway, where its CVT transmission slots soundlessly into its highest cruising range and the 2.5 liter inline 4 loafs along at 70mph without making a peep. When you arrive at your destination, you will give the gas gauge a second look, because the needle never appears to move from full to empty. In fact, this is not optical illusion. The 182hp motor sips fuel like a teetotaler sips wine: judiciously. On the freeway, this fully equipped, 3,130lb. four-door sedan returns a startling 38MPG. A series of lengthy trips around the Bay Area failed to dislodge the gauge needle from its seemingly permanent position at half full. You won’t do much complaining about the Altima’s overall rating of 31MPG.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

What you may complain about is this model’s inaccurate steering, excessive body roll in turns, and floundering response to acceleration requests. Let’s start with the feedback at the steering wheel. On a jaunt up Highway 101 with few curves I found myself constantly administering small course corrections to stay in my lane. Now mind you, this test sedan was equipped with a $1,090 Technology Package which provided, among other features, Lane Departure Warning. Every few seconds the LDW buzzer would activate as the Altima migrated hither and yon like a yacht tacking upwind. The solution to the problem is forgo the Technology Package, and pay real close attention to lane position, even when you’re driving this Nissan in a straight line. When the road gets curvy, the ultra soft suspension heels over onto its bump stops, the shocks cease to absorb bumps, and the middle-of-the-road Michelin Energy tires hang onto your prescribed arc with increasing difficulty. Nissan makes no pretense that the Altima 2.5 SV is a sports sedan.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

On the other hand, the soft suspension and pillow-like steering provide a cloud-calm ride that will eat up freeway miles faster than a bullet train. If you do a lot of I-5 cruising, the Altima is perfectly suited to your needs. The interior features what Nissan calls “Zero Gravity” seats. These offer a suspension system perfected in conjunction with NASA that makes you feel like you’re suspended over an air cushion rather than strapped into an unyielding bolster. The effect of this technology advance is much appreciated by your derriere. The interior fixtures of our test SV benefited from a $1,350 Convenience Package upgrade that added a power sliding Moonroof and a “Mood Lamp” in the roof console that will save you trips to the Disco joint or Studio 54. In fact, the interior of the Altima is a most hospitable space, with extra A/C vents added for rear seat passengers as part of the Convenience Package.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

The SV version of the Altima includes a Nissan Intelligent Key with a remote engine start feature. This means you can start the engine even when you are not seated in the driver’s seat, a nice bonus if you live in, or visit cold climes where pre-heating your car is a way of life.

However, we ran into one transient problem with the Intelligent Key when we returned to the locked Altima, used the key fob to unlock the doors, then pressed the engine start button on the dash. But the instrument panel informed us that it sensed an “incorrect” key and refused to start the car. So we climbed out of the Nissan, relocked the doors, then unlocked them, climbed back in and again pressed the start button. Once again we got the “incorrect” key read-out. So we scoured the owner’s manual for advice. The best it could offer was “See your Nissan Dealer.” After a few more minutes of “now what are we supposed to do?” the Altima finally decided it was OK to start. The problem never occurred again. But this episode certainly left us wondering about the dependability of such now common remote start systems. At the very least you should always carry a spare battery for your key fob transmitter.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 valve inline 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 182hp
  • Torque: 180lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,180
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

Monday July 20th, 2015 at 2:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

By David Colman

Hypes: Super Clean Fit, Finish and Appearance
Gripes: Sloppy Throttle, V6 Needs More HP and Torque

Volkswagen has refreshed the appearance of the Touareg SUV for 2015. Most noticeable is the revamped prow, with seven horizontal strakes emphasizing the platform’s 76 inch width. New 20 inch alloy rims complement the new grill’s linearity with their triple ribbed five spoke design. All in all, VW has successfully infused the aging Touareg platform with a new visual vocabulary. Yet all the previous virtues of this luxury SUV remain: all-wheel-drive (4Motion), sumptuous accommodations for 4, excellent all-around visibility, and rock solid handling. The 4 Motion system benefits from a self-locking center differential that will extricate you from virtually any traction robbing situation. The grabby Goodyear LS2 Eagles (275/45R20) contribute high levels of wet and dry traction. And if you do get yourself well and truly stuck, VW provides 3 years and 36,000 miles of 24 Hour Roadside Assistance including towing, jump starts, tire changes, plus remedies for out-of-fuel and lock-out problems.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The upgraded interior of the Executive model rivals the best offerings from Range Rover or BMW for understated good taste. Our “Black Oak Brown Metallic” test model featured a “Cornsilk Beige” interior as easy on the eyes as it was on the torso. The enormous power lifting and sliding panoramic sunroof (standard issue) brightens both rows of the interior, even when shut. Both front and rear seats are trimmed with exceptionally pliant leather, carefully tailored into bolstered sections that look like recliners you might find at Scandinavian Designs. In fact, that same clean European design idiom permeates the interior, from the precision feel of the center console lid to the ancillary controls on the steering wheel and dashboard. VW charges $2,500 for the Executive Driver Assistance package, which adds Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist, a lane departure warning system. Both offerings add to the Touareg’s ease of operation and your own peace of mind. VW’s Lane Assist is one of the best on the market, with a mutable chime and a useful blinker under each exterior rear view mirror to remind you of adjacent traffic.

Also new is an 8-speed automatic transmission which VW imports from Japan. This unit insures decent highway fuel mileage of 23MPG, as well as manual gear override via a stubby floor mounted selector lever. Unfortunately, steering wheel mounted paddles are not offered as part of the gear changing system. Still, it’s easy to lock the transmission in a gear ratio of your choice. Doing so insures that the gearbox will not up-shift on its own accord, especially handy when you are pulling a trailer. Touareg is well equipped for such towing duty, with its standard receiver jack, and standard “Area View” camera system to help position hitch on ball. Trailer rating is a generous 7,700 lbs.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

If you do plan on towing a substantial load, opt for the diesel engine or the Hybrid Touareg, because the base model V6 we tested is short on pulling power. Bear in mind that this VW weighs in at 5,060 pounds. If you select the TDI turbo diesel option (base price $62,200), you get just 240hp, which gives you a power-to-weight ratio of 21lb./hp. But the diesel’s exceptional torque output of 406 lb./ft. more than covers the horsepower shortfall. If you opt for the top model 380hp V6 Hybrid ($66,995), your power-to-weight ratio drops to a very lively 13.3 lb./hp. Our gas powered V6 Touareg Executive ($58,700 base price) makes just 280hp and 266lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a burdensome power-to-weight ratio of 18.07lb./hp. Further complicating the gas V6′s lack of thrust is a throttle pedal that is not linear in its application. When you mash the throttle, you encounter considerable pedal free play before the engine responds to your input.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The Executive version of the Touareg is loaded with comfort and luxury features you will pay dearly to match should you chose a similar product from Porsche (Cayenne) or BMW (X4 or X5). For example, standard inclusions from VW are adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, park distance control, 10 speaker Dynaudio sound system, Climatronic dual zone automatic climate control, keyless access with push button start, remote power lift gate with easy opening feature, rain sensing wipers, and a dozen more useful additions. Life with this Volkswagen is pleasurable, and its promise of future benefit recently reached maturity with a full blessing from Consumer Reports. CR just conferred “Recommended” status on the Touareg, since reliability has finally improved to “average” after many years in the sub-par category.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

  • Engine: 3.6 liter VR6, 24 valve narrow angle V6 with FSI direct fuel injection
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 266lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $62,110
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Tuesday June 16th, 2015 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Lovely Revamped Looks, Upgraded Interior Touch Zones
Gripes: No Exterior Trunk Release, Erector Set Nuts and Bolts Exposed

Subaru has always been known for its idiosyncratic vehicles, from the humorous Brat mini pickup with seating for 2 in the bed, to the other-worldly SVX coupe with fixed side windows and doors extending well into the roof. As always, Subaru designers put more of a premium on functionality than beauty. This guiding principle left the potent but ugly WRX with more bumps and welts than a rhino’s hide. But a new day has dawned at Fuji Heavy Industries, parent of Subaru. The all-new Legacy comes as a stunning and pleasant surprise, the product of what the company calls its “new design language.” Since the Legacy currently accounts for just 1 percent of all sales in its market segment, Subaru has been compelled by practicality to rethink the dated architecture of its mid-size sedan. The objective was to incorporate a “coupe-like profile and up-market interior with extensive soft-touch materials used throughout.”

The latest, 6th generation Legacy is undeniably handsome, especially in the muted Lapis Blue Metallic shade that graced our $27,480 test model. Although it occupies no more real estate than its predecessor, the new Legacy boats best-in-segment interior volume of 104.6 cubic feet, backed up by a newly enlarged 15 cubic foot trunk. You can easily transport 4 adults plus all their belongings on long trips. Legacy excels at freeway travel, thanks to a revamped platform and suspension aimed at ride comfort. The Goodyear Assurance radials (225/55R17), mounted on 7.5 x 17 inch alloys, contribute their share of supple comfort at the expense of cutting edge handling. All Legacy models utilize Subaru’s exceptional all-wheel-drive system, which provides Active Torque Vectoring as a standard feature for the first time.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Our test Legacy couples Subaru’s CVT transmission to the base model 175hp flat four motor for acceptable performance. Subaru, which pioneered CVT propulsion back in the late 80s with its Justy model, has been improving this mode of transmission for longer than any other manufacturer. The refinement shows in this Legacy application, with a 6-speed system so responsive in manual mode to paddle input that you will be hard pressed to tell the Lineartronic CVT transmission uses variable bands rather than toothed gear sets.

But even the crisp transmission cannot cover the Boxer engine’s limited power output in situations that require immediate acceleration. I recommend opting for the available 3.6 liter flat 6, which raises Legacy base price from $23,495 to $29,995. Such a move insures your peace of mind for any passing maneuver on any piece of road.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

The Legacy’s interior is appreciably better than anything previously offered by Subaru in this model. The first thing you notice after climbing in is the compliance of the material covering the shut panel on the door. Instead of hard plastic, this surface is now resilient foam covered with matte vinyl. The cloth seating surfaces feature an interlaced vinyl overlay that looks good and deters wear. The Premium model includes a new 7 inch color touch screen that reads swipe and scrolling commands. This works well when the Legacy is parked, but underway, it’s difficult to coordinate your gestures without inadvertently bumping the screen and losing your intended command. Steering wheel mounted controls for audio cover some of the problems by offering volume and station manipulation via secure thumb switches.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Subaru fitted our Legacy with Option package 14, which costs $1,195 and provides Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Change Assist. Although the Adaptive Cruise Control takes the hassle out of interval maintenance at freeway speed, the Lane Change Assist became annoying rather quickly as it beeps every time you switch lanes without first using your turn signal. This beeper can be deactivated via a panel of switches inconveniently located out of sight near your left knee.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

The new Legacy’s most prominent claim to fame is not its new found good looks or upgraded interior. What distinguishes this practical family sedan from anything else in its class is its distinguished safety record. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently determined that only 9 models of car have unblemished safety records, with no deaths recorded over an entire year (2011) of operation. the Subaru Legacy was one of those 9.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Boxer 4
  • Horsepower: 175hp
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,480
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lexus LS460

Friday June 12th, 2015 at 5:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus LS460

By David Colman

Hypes: Sleeper Sports Sedan, Ultra Luxury Accommodations
Gripes: Ugly Trapezoid Grill

The LS460 is the decathlete of luxury sedans. Feel free to enter it in any competition you choose, from freeway jaunts to back road bashes, and it will come out on top. From the standpoint of sheer luxury, it’s hard to beat the 460′s comprehensive portfolio of burnished features.

Navigation is standard, as is the huge 12.2 inch screen to decipher the map and directions. The LS offers you a gentle welcome ritual. When you lock your Lexus, it folds its exterior mirrors like a sleeping puppy. When you approach the locked Lexus, you needn’t bother to activate the key fob button because the car’s proximity sensor (called Smart Access) already senses your presence and has unfolded the mirrors and unlocked the doors for you. In the course of a busy day of errand running, this kind of time saving luxury feature is worth more than you could ever pay for it.

2015 Lexus LS460

But it’s just one component of a suite of thoughtfulness that includes doors that shut themselves automatically when they sense that is your intent. When you pop the trunk button on your key fob remote, the lid lifts without intercession on your part. When loading is done, just touch the button on the lid’s underside and it closes itself. For this parlor trick you will need to order the $1,650 extra F Sport Comfort Package. In addition to the trick trunk, the package also provides climate controlled front seats, and a power rear sunshade.

2015 Lexus LS460

But luxury is more than the inclusion of useful gimmicks. In the case of the 460, the fit and finish of the interior is so stout that you will never find an errant seam or loose thread. JD Power Initial Quality Surveys repeatedly place Lexus in the very top echelon of automotive makers, and one look at the interior of the 460 confirms why: the seat leather is softer than any gloves you’ve ever owned, the wood that graces the dash and doors is luminously real, the headliner is butter soft to the touch, and the tactile surfaces on the door armrests are loose and impressionable rather than taut and hard. This is the kind of detail attention that distinguishes the flagship 460 not only from lesser Lexus products, but also sets it apart from top drawer competition from Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

2015 Lexus LS460

In the not too distant past, you would never consider a 460 to be a competitor to the German troika as a sports sedan. Although always wonderfully appointed, the LS placed a premium on luxury over performance. But all that has changed with the advent of the F Sport Package for the LS460. This admittedly expensive ($8,350) grouping of assets transforms the previously stodgy Lexus into a genuine fast lane screamer. Start with the tire/wheel combo which increases from 18 to 19 inch diameter in F Sport trim. Gone are the standard, undersized 235/50R18 tires in favor of ultra high performance Bridgestone Turanzas ER33s measuring 245/45R19, mounted on understated 19 x 9 inch alloy rims finished in gun metal pewter. The F Sport gambit also installs Variable Gear-Ratio Steering which works in conjunction with Adaptive Variable Suspension to offer you a wide range of behavior from Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Dial your level of choice into the system via a large knob mounted on the center console. In the Comfort setting, the 460 tends to float over bumps and potholes, and the steering is so light that you find yourself constantly feeding in minor corrections to maintain proper freeway lane position. But if you run the big knob all the way to the Sport+ position, the LS hunkers down like a big cat hunting a gazelle. The steering ratio tightens up instantly, eliminating lane wander. Ride stiffens noticeably, and back road fun beckons. Only the overly aggressive traction control prevents you from exercising the LS with true abandon. If the protection system feels you are about to exceed its authorized limits, it will shut down gas supply and provide braking whether you or not you feel the intercession is necessary. One nice feature added for 2015 is a reduction in turning circle geometry that allows you to complete a U-Turn with ease in a very small area. This unexpected nimbleness comes as a pleasant surprise from this 4,515 lb. sedan.

2015 Lexus LS460

Topping off all the other virtues is a stellar V8 that produces 386hp in F Sport tune. You can harness the 32 valve, 4 cam engine’s 367 lb.-ft. of torque by playing mellifluous exhaust tunes with the help of an 8-speed, paddle-shifted gearbox. Feeling lazy? Just drop the rig into Drive, and the LS will baby you with easy shifts and quiet running. Feeling the need for speed? Slot the gearbox into manual mode, pick a gear and fire away. This sport sedan will explode with a velocity that will knock your knees. Best of all, Lexus has equipped it with suspension, steering and contact patch upgrades that make the most of that screaming engine’s full potential.

2015 Lexus LS460

2015 Lexus LS460

  • Engine: 4.6 liter V8, 4 Cams, 32 Valves, Electrically Controlled Intake Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 386hp
  • Torque: 367lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $85,525
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

Thursday June 11th, 2015 at 8:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

By David Colman

Hypes: Sportiest All Activity Vehicle Ever From BMW
Gripes: Poor Rear Visibility

On a winding back road, the $54,550 28i version of the X4 will match a twin turbo Porsche Macan, move for move, while costing you $33,000 less. What’s the secret recipe here that BMW used to transform the practical but ponderous X3 platform into an Olympic grade decathlete? It’s the X4′s brilliant front mid-engine configuration. One look under the counter balanced hood reveals a vast empty crush space stretching from the radiator to the front face of the compact twin turbo four. Less weight over the front axle eliminates understeer. The central concentration of mass results in low polar moment of inertia, the key ingredient in the handling equation. The little 240hp 2.0 liter is tucked so far back against the firewall that it sits over and behind the front axle.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

BMW capitalizes on this nearly ideal 49.3% front/ 50.7% rear weight distribution by pinning the X4 to the road with massaged suspension components. Buried at the rear of the engine bay is a tubular strut tower brace tying the cast alloy upper shock absorber mounts to the firewall. The optional $2,300 M Package further stiffens the underpinnings with “sport suspension” upgrades, making for a tolerably firm ride. Handling gains precision through M Package 19 inch light alloy rims which replace available 17 and 18 inch stock variants. These double-spoke pewter alloys, shod with 245/45R19 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires, drop aspect ratio from 55 or 50 to 45 series sidewalls that are much more responsive to steering input. The blocky all weather Eagles proved surprisingly agile, carving apexes without any loss of adhesion or audible protest. The X4′s tight 39 foot turning circle further enhances maneuverability.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

Variable power distribution to each wheel afforded by xDrive’s all-wheel-drive system ensures relentless adhesion. You can even tailor the grip to your personal preference by selecting – via a slide switch on the center console – one of four available “Performance Control” dynamic driving programs. Most insidious to performance is “Eco Pro” which minimizes fuel consumption (20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway/23 MPG Combined) by imposing glacial acceleration strictures on throttle response. More acceptable to the enthusiast is the “Comfort” setting which achieves what BMW calls “a balanced tuning” of all parameters. Added performance leeway is available in “Sport” mode which provides, according to the owner’s manual, “consistently sporty tuning of the suspension and engine controls.” In practice, “Sport” allows you to boogie within the limits dictated by Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). My favorite choice invariably became “Sport+” because it reconstitutes the entire feel of the X4 in a way that emphasizes sports over utility. “Sport+” switches on Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), a higher performance version of Dynamic Stability Control favoring forward momentum over driving stability. In other words, you’re still allotted some CYA insurance coverage, but not the platinum policy offered under DSC. “Sport+” also tightens steering response. Feedback at the wheel becomes more precise and rewarding. Ride firms measurably as the shocks assert more jounce and rebound control. The throttle responds with dispatch to the most minute pedal application. The X4 is now prepped to rumble in full beast mode.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

The gearing for the 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission is delightfully short and peaky, perfect in fact for autocrossing, with a top sped of just 50mph in second gear. Third and fourth are equally short and closely spaced. For maximum enjoyment you will want to slip the console lever into the manual slot and control all shifts with the oversize aluminum paddles appended to the steering wheel. The gear chosen indicator window located in the base of the tachometer is 12 point typeface, when it really needs to be 24 point for instant reference. It’s hard enough to see in the daylight, and really gets lost in a sea of orange illumination at night.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

The interior feels much more sports car like than any comparable SUV because BMW lowered the seats, front and rear, 1 inch to compensate for the reduced height of the fastback (or “Sport Activity Coupe”) roofline. This shuffle plants your butt crucially closer to the ground than the X3, or the Macan, for that matter. Instead of enduring the usual sports futility sensation of swaggering through turns on a barstool, the X4 feels reassuringly squat and glued. The fastidious level of interior refinement is soothing in the way you’ve come to expect from BMW. Concierge lit exterior door handles guide your way at night. Though BMW’s brave new confection may look like a Bavarian Cream Puff, it’s got a molten lava core ready to bubble over with a little help from your right foot.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

  • Engine: 2.0 liter 16 valve inline 4 with twin power turbo, direct injection and double VANOS variable valve control
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $54,550
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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